ANALYSIS Atlanta - Because of their superstar, their record and some incredible team statistics early in the season, the Cavaliers have had the "elite" tag slapped on them in the NBA's pecking order.
Thus far they have earned it, but to keep it up they are going to have to address the only blemish on their 20-4 record. After Saturday night's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, which snapped an 11-game win streak, the Cavs are now just 1-4 this season on the road against teams with winning records.
On one hand it can be said the team doesn't have a bad loss yet. During the winning streak, when the Cavs only played one team with the winning record (the Hawks), they vanquished the sub-.500 opponents nightly.
On the other, watching the road performance of East rivals Boston and Orlando - the Magic won in Portland and Utah last week and lost by a single point in Phoenix - the Cavs still have some work to do.
The Cavs are 7-4 on the road so far, and a disproportionate six of those 11 games have been on the second night of a back-to-back. Nonetheless, the Cavs are now to be judged by the highest standard, and losses in Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Atlanta don't brighten their r?sum? much.
November's victory in Dallas, which kicked off the just halted run of 19 wins in 20 games, is so far the Cavs' only quality win away from The Q. And the Mavericks, who are now 13-9 after winning nine of their past 11, are just a pedestrian 6-5 at home this season.
"Our road record isn't great, but it isn't bad," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "We're by no means where we want to be in May or June. There are some good teams out there."
Their road defeats have all been reasonably similar. They struggled scoring in the second half, never getting more than 92 points in any of the losses. But that happens on the road to everybody.
The true issue is the club's half-court defense - it is supposed to be a strength, but hasn't been strong enough to get the Cavs off the hook.
In the loss in Detroit and the defeat Saturday, the Cavs allowed 60 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. The opposition's numbers were better than 50 percent in Boston and New Orleans in the first week of the season.
"I'm not ready to look at it as a measuring stick yet," Brown said. "Because there is so much Basketball left and we've got a lot of these type of games to play."
The Cavs play their next three games on the road and get another chance to test themselves against a top team Friday in Denver, a nationally televised game at the Pepsi Center. The Cavs have only won once in Denver in the LeBron James era and have been smoked there the past two seasons.
Playing without center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and guard Daniel Gibson on Saturday night against the Hawks, who are an impressive 8-1 at home, the Cavs nearly scored what would've been perhaps their best win of the season, considering the circumstances. But they didn't and it reminded them they have work left.
"I think we've played pretty good on the road, you can't win them all," James said. "We just played four games in five nights and we won three of them and one on the road. I think that's a pretty good sign."
Slumping shooters: There is probably never a good time to have a slump, but the shooting tailspins guards Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak currently are in are showing up more with Gibson sidelined. Szczerbiak is just 2-of-20 from the floor in the three games since Gibson went down with a toe sprain, including 0-of-7 on 3-pointers. West is experiencing a market correction after a great month of November. He is 24-of-73 (33 percent) over the past six games and 4-of-21 on 3-pointers over the past
Schedule matters: After playing six sets of back-to-backs in
the past four weeks, just about the NBA maximum for such a time frame, the Cavs don't face another for a month. There are only three scheduled in January and two in February. The Cavs are 5-2 on the second night of back-to-backs this season and six of them have seen the second night on the road.
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